By Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island State Director
Also published in the July RI Senior Digest
A June AARP Public Policy Institute report found that, in 2020, retail prices for 260 widely-used brand name prescription drugs increased more than twice as fast as inflation -- rising 2.9% compared to the general inflation rate of 1.3%.
The average annual cost for one brand name medication was over $6,600, more than $1,500 higher than in 2015. The annual cost of therapy for the typical older American taking 4-5 prescription drugs per month would have been more than $31,000 last year, more than an average Medicare beneficiary’s annual income.
For many older Rhode Islanders, the rising cost of prescription drugs is a crisis. And that’s why AARP is working in Congress as well as at the Rhode Island State House to lower prescription drug prices. We have said it many times, but it bears repeating: No one should be forced to choose between paying their bills and paying for the medicine they need. Our leaders need to take action now to lower drug prices.
Debra Whitman, Executive Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer at AARP, puts it bluntly: “It’s inexcusable that even during a pandemic and financial crisis, brand name drug companies continued to increase their prices so much faster than the prices of other goods and services.”
The June AARP Policy Institute report analyzed how these price trends and found that the average annual cost of drug therapy for one brand name drug used regularly would have been almost $3,700 lower in 2020 if retail price changes had been limited to inflation between 2006 and 2020. These cost increases have had significant impact on medications used to treat common chronic conditions.
- Between 2015 and 2020, the annual retail prices of several prescription drugs commonly used to treat diabetes spiked. Victoza increased from $7,936 to $11,300, and Trulicity increased from $6,567 to $9,323.
- The cost of medications for asthma and COPD also rose sharply. Spiriva Handihaler increased from $3,886 to $5,289, and Symbicort increased from $3,391 to $4,282.
You can check out these alarming trends yourself. To view “Rx Price Watch Report: Trends in Retail Prices of Brand Name Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Adults, 2006 to 2020” visit www.aarp.org/rxpricewatch.
We say, Enough is enough.
AARP has been at the forefront of calling on federal and state lawmakers to take action to lower prescription drug prices and is pushing for progress on a number of national policy solutions, including:
- Price Negotiation: Allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs for its beneficiaries and allow other insurers to have access to Medicare-negotiated prices.
- Inflation-Based Rebates: Require drug manufacturers to pay a penalty when their prices for prescription drugs covered by Medicare Parts B and D increase faster than inflation.
- Out-of-Pocket Cap: Create a hard out-of-pocket spending cap for Medicare Part D enrollees.
AARP Rhode Island has been hard at work advocating for state-level action. We hosted a series of well-attended public forums in 2019 to bring people together to tell their stories about the hardship of steadily climbing prescription drug prices. AARP invited state lawmakers to hear their constituents’ plea for bipartisan legislative action to lower drug prices.
The pandemic sidelined deliberations on drug-price legislation in 2020, but AARP vowed to return to this pressing issue in 2021.
The General Assembly has followed through this year. As the session headed into its final weeks, two key bills were passed in the Senate and were awaiting action in the House where they have bipartisan support.
One, the so-called “gag order” bill, would ensure health insurance plans could not prohibit pharmacists from discussing prescription reimbursement criteria with customers. AARP also supports a bill to require pharmacists to notify customers if their cost-sharing benefits exceed the actual retail price of a prescription.
Additionally, we have urged passage of a bill to limit health plans that provide coverage for prescription insulin drugs used to treat diabetes to a maximum $40 copayment for a thirty (30) day supply of insulin – regardless of the amount or type of insulin, and to exempt prescription insulin from any deductible.
These are exciting successes that will make a real difference in prescription drug affordability for thousands of Rhode Islanders. For the latest on these bills, visit Associate State Director Matt Netto’s “Netto’s Notes” on our Web site.
AARP will keep up the fight for action to lower prescription drug prices. Please consider joining us! Visit www.aarp.org/RIAdvocates to learn how you can become an AARP Rhode Island Advocacy Volunteer.